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Casting By

by Leonard Maltin
November 1, 2013 12:00 AM
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Young Marion Dougherty in her days as an actress; perhaps it was this experience that gave her such empathy for young performers just starting out.

How fitting that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced the formation of a Casting Directors’ branch, just as Tom Donahue’s outstanding documentary Casting By is building an audience. (It opens theatrically in New York today and Los Angeles on November 8.) What a perfect piece of timing—even though it adds a bittersweet footnote to the failed effort to present an honorary Oscar to the legendary Marion Dougherty, who passed away in 2011. In his impressively researched film, Donahue makes it clear why and how Dougherty helped define her profession. Indeed, she was the first person to receive a solo-card credit for her work.

The list of people Dougherty discovered and championed is daunting, and many of them appear on camera in Casting By, including Robert Duvall, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Glenn Close, and Diane Lane, along with directors who placed their trust in her like Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood, and Woody Allen.

Dougherty got her feet wet in the world of live television in New York City during the 1950s and made a successful transition to filmed TV when such Manhattan-based shows as Naked City and The Defenders offered up-and-coming actors rich opportunities. Meanwhile, on the West Coast, Lynn Stalmaster made a similar name for himself working on such half-hour series as Gunsmoke and Have Gun, Will Travel, amassing an equally impressive roster of discoveries and (like Dougherty) really going to bat for people he believed in, like Jon Voight and John Travolta, who recall how much his loyalty and determination meant at crucial moments in their blossoming careers.

Casting By would be valuable just for the interview footage with Dougherty and Stalmaster, but they’re just part of the reason the documentary is so good. This is clearly a labor of love. It must have been in the works an awfully long time…but it was worth waiting for. 

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